Healthy coral ecosystems support local businesses and economies, as well as provide jobs through tourism and recreation. Every year, millions of scuba divers and snorkelers visit coral reefs to enjoy their abundant sea life. Even more tourists visit the beaches protected by these reefs. Local economies receive billions of dollars from these visitors to reef regions through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses based near reef ecosystems. One estimate places the total global value of coral-reef based recreation and tourism at $9.6 billion of the total global net benefit of coral reefs. [a]
For example, in the US, reef-related recreation and tourism account for an estimated $364 million in added value to Hawai`i's economy each year and its nearshore reefs annually contribute nearly $1 billion in gross revenues for the state. [b] Caribbean countries, which attract millions of visitors annually to their beaches and reefs, derive, on average, half of their gross domestic product from the tourism industry. [c] In Southeast Asia, it is estimated that each square kilometer of healthy reef (in areas with tourism potential) has a potential net benefit of $23,100 to $270,000. [d]
Diving is one of the key components of reef tourism and recreation; divers generally look for high-quality coral reef habitats (as indicated by live coral coverage), coral and fish diversity, and water clarity. As a result, half of all diving in the Caribbean occurs within the region's marine protected areas, although these reefs represent a small fraction (about 20 percent) of all reefs within the region. Divers in the region have indicated a willingness to pay an average of an additional $25 per diver per year to keep the Caribbean coral reefs healthy. [e] One estimate predicts a loss of growth in the Caribbean dive industry of between 2 and 5 percent by 2015 due to reef degradation, which would result in a region-wide loss of annual net benefits of between $100 and $300 million. [e]
Despite their great economic and recreational value, coral reefs are threatened by a number of factors. Recreation and tourism are "high value" industries that are especially sensitive to reef condition, and thus particularly vulnerable to degradation. [f] Once coral reefs are damaged, they are less able to support the many creatures that make their home on the reef and in turn lose value as a destination for tourists. Reef degradation has a direct economic impact on people whose livelihoods rely on reef tourism.